commuting · Cycling · Life

Biking Madison AL

A comprehensive guide to biking the city of Madison, Alabama

Madison is trying to improve their bicycle infrastructure. They’re trying, but struggling. As with any civic project, money is the driving factor. As cyclist are aware, bike infrastructure often takes a back seat to other projects. I’m often confused by the city’s efforts. On the one hand, they’ve put in some great greenways and the County Line Rd. paths. On the other, they continue to install traffic lights without bike sensors or pedestrian crossings.

Traveling North-South through Madison

County Line Road
With the recent (2017) revamp of County Line Rd., Madison added its first full-fledged bike route. The idea was good. The execution could have been better. Both sides of County Line Rd. now support a multi-use (cycle/pedestrian) path. Unlike the motor lanes, the bike path has posted stop signs at every, single side street. If it was possible to use the motor lanes, a cyclist would have traffic lights less than half as often as the bike path’s stop signs. However, in Alabama, cyclist may NOT use the motor lanes if an adjacent bike path/lane is available (Code of AL Section 32-5A-263c). This basically means that the County Line paths were designed for failure, at least where commuter traffic is concerned. They do provide a slow-paced corridor to the neighborhoods and shopping along County Line Rd.

Don’t. Just don’t. Wall-Triana, at least north of Mill Rd. is a cycling nightmare, see also “death trap.” It is Madison’s most heavily used road. There are no shoulders, no turning lanes to speak of, and no passing opportunities for cars. Avoid Wall-Triana north of Mill Rd. at all costs. South of Mill Rd. Wall-Triana, or as it is known in Madison, Sullivan St., supports a third, left-turn lane giving motor traffic room to pass. Watch for the pinch point created by the bollards at the railroad crossing. South of Royal Dr., Sullivan widens to 5 lanes, but traffic is very heavy in this area approaching the 565 interstate. Proceed south with extreme caution. Though there are 5 lanes south of the interstate, the speed limit increases to 50 mph (80 kph).

Side note: Royal Dr. has Madison’s only painted bike lanes. They go absolutely no where and connect to absolutely nothing. But they do run the entire length of Royal Dr.

Hughes Road
You might assume that the second most heavily used road in the city would be a bicycle no-go, but Hughes Rd. is quite forgiving to bicycle traffic. It is 4 lanes south of Browns-Ferry Rd. and 3 lanes north of that intersection. The 3rd lane is a center, left-turn lane. It provides ample passing room for motor traffic to pass cyclists. You should remain aware of the forward road situation. If there is a car waiting in the center, left-turn lane, it can cause a pinch-point situation. With enough forward awareness, a cyclist has time to take center lane and discourage squeeze passes.

The 4 lane section from Browns-Ferry to Mill allows cyclist to use the full, right-hand lane. This section of road gives access to City Hall and Bicycle Cove, Madison’s only bike shop for repairs and equipment.

It’s recommended you avoid Hughes Rd. south of Portal Ln./Mill Rd. unless you’re just trying to get to Skate Park Dr. which is also accessible from Mill Rd. Once south of Skate Park, you will encounter a formidable hill in the form of the train track overpass. The speed limit increases to 45 mph (72 kph). It is unfortunate that this is one of only two routes to the post office and shopping along Madison Blvd. The post office is best accessed via Lanier Dr./Will Halsey Way from Old Town Madison.

Note: The path running the length of Hughes Road’s west side is NOT a multi-use path. According to the Madison City engineer’s office, it is a pedestrian-only sidewalk. The Alabama Traffic Code, Section 32-5A-52, forbids cycling on a sidewalk.

Nance to Hughes via Bradford Farms
The hill on Grand Vista Dr. is fairly steep. However, there is an alternative when schools are not in session. On the back (west) side of Rainbow Elementary is a sidewalk that connects to Green Springs Ln. in the Bradford Farms neighborhood. Do NOT attempt this shortcut when school is in session.

Old Town Madison Access
From Hughes and Plaza, take Plaza to Landers to Sturdivant to Church to Main. I recommend Sturdivant Street instead of Church especially if you’re northbound because the light at Church and Mill will not change for bikes and there’s less of a hill. Landers Rd. is not well maintained so watch for potholes and over-patched asphalt. Once downtown, it’s an easy connection through the stadium parking lot using an old construction path off Shorter St at the end of Garner St. This will connect with Celtic Dr and Madison Blvd. Alternatively, you can use Lanier Rd. to get to the post office. If Redstone Arsenal is your destination, Madison Blvd connects with Intergraph Way just one block east of Celtic. See “Arsenal Access” below for further tips.

Traveling East-West through Madison

North of Hwy 72
The shopping centers and cinema between Wall-Triana and Nance Rd., north of Hwy 72, are all interconnected. Using parking lots and the connecting streets makes shopping access by bicycle quite easy. Crossing 72 can be accomplished on Wall-Triana or Hughes Rd. since there is almost always car traffic to change the lights. The traffic lights on Nance Rd. are bike-enabled. Be sure to line up on the icon.

Gooch Lane
Gooch Ln. is about the safest east-west corridor on the north side of Madison. The speed limit is 35 mph (56 kph). The lower speed limit and residential nature of the road make it one of the few choices for an east-west connection. Once Gooch ends at Balch Rd., you can access the medical district with a short ride north on five lanes or with a short ride south, use residential streets (Kentucky, Thoroughbred, Small Creek, and Joe Phillips) to connect to County Line Rd. There is also a sidewalk at the end of Eastfield Dr. that connects to the Shoppes of Madison (Target shopping center) on the shopping center’s west end.

Brown’s Ferry/Madison Pike
From Wall-Triana to Bridgestreet/Research Park West, Old Madison Pike is your only choice. There is a center left-turn lane that provides passing opportunities for cars for the entire length of the route. The Indian Creek Greenway also connects to the road just east of Slaughter Rd. You will encounter one decent hill between Dublin Park and Shelton Rd.

This is the southern most of the east-west connections. From Mill Park Ln. west to the Bradford Creek Greenway, there is a multi-use path. East of Mill Park Ln., Mill Rd. is two lanes and 45 mph (72 kph) until you reach Wall-Triana (Sullivan St.) where the speed limit drops. Portal Ln. is a residential, 25 mph (40 kph) zone and there is parallel parking on either side. This provides space if you wish to pull over and allow passing, but it is one of the few places in Madison where cyclist must watch the door zone. Portal connects to Shelton Rd. on the east end. This provides access to the shopping center at the corner of Shelton and Madison Blvd.

Other Considerations

Traffic signals
With one exception, I’ve yet to find a bike sensor in the city of Madison. Traffic lights will not change for cyclist unless they are on a timer. This is a major oversight in the city’s planning and infrastructure. I have quizzed the streets department on the matter and their response is simply, “Treat the red light as a stop sign.” I note that this advice won’t hold water with the police department simply because the streets department can’t be bothered to put in a manual button to activate the lights.

The one working bike sensor I know of is at Madison Blvd and Intergraph Way. There are bike sensor on Intergraph Way and exiting the Walmart parking lot at that same intersection.

Arsenal Access
Redstone Arsenal is best accessed from Madison via Gate 7 on Martin Rd. at the Zierdt Rd. intersection. Gate 7 is open for inbound traffic from 05:30 to 14:00 and outbound traffic from 05:30 to 19:00. There is a gravel path shortcut from Dunlop Blvd. to The Reserve neighborhood. This eventually connects to Nature’s Way and on to Zierdt Rd. The gravel path connects to a sidewalk, so dismounting is recommended and required. Thin-tire bikes are discouraged from riding the gravel due to potential flats and the adjacent pond. Watch for families and children going to and from the playground adjacent to the path. Also, reduce any noise/music levels out of respect for the houses near the secret sidewalk. Note: The hill out of The Reserve on Nature’s Way (east end) can be a daunting, but short climb.

Practical Cycling Map of Madison AL

Alabama Traffic Code Excerpts
Section 32-5A-52
Driving upon sidewalk.
No person shall drive any vehicle upon a sidewalk or sidewalk area except upon a permanent or duly authorized temporary driveway.

Section 32-5A-263
Riding on roadways and bicycle paths; right side signalling.
(a) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.
(b) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
(c) Wherever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway.
(d) A person riding a bicycle may give a hand signal for a right turn by extending his or her right arm and hand horizontally on the right side of the bicycle. A child under the age of sixteen shall not be required to comply with the right side signalling.

abusive · govenment · Life

Why Government Shutdowns are Bullshit

Amongst all the jabber about the federal government “shutting down,” there are a few important details being overlooked. Once you wade through those proclaiming, “Shut it down for good!” or “Why do we have non-essential government employees anyway?” (I’m looking askance at you, Libertarians), we come to the meat of the matter.

Shutdowns cost taxpayers
“But it’s shutdown. How can it cost me money?” you ask and I’m glad you did. Federal employees are always given backpay. A shutdown is essentially just a paid vacation for them. They aren’t paid at the time and it is a hardship, but ultimately, they are reimbursed. Contractors are always given backpay, too. These are legal, contractual agreements between the government and companies. They have to be paid once the checks start getting written again. Plus, there are costs to coordinating the shutdown and the inevitable re-opening. Planning meetings, contingency plans, physical plant security, etc. all have to be attended to. These detract from actual work being done. Then you have the fact that half the government is exempt from the shutdown because they are deemed essential. As a taxpayer, you should be angry that your money is being wasted on these frivolous activities in the name of a political chess game.

They really hurt the little guy
Take a look at the federal pay scale. You may be surprised that federal employees don’t really earn that much money. They often trade a higher salary they could earn in the private sector for job security and guaranteed retirement. The majority of the federal workforce is like most of America, they’re living paycheck to paycheck. The one thing a shutdown always does is stop the checks from going out. This puts a pothole in any economic activity that depends on the upper-lower-class’ and the middle-class’ spending activities. These workers naturally go into protection mode, digging into their savings (if they have any) just to keep their lights on. There are serious economic repercussions when 1.3 million people suddenly don’t have a paycheck. Those shouty people from the opening paragraph don’t realize the private sector loses a large chunk of their customer base overnight.

They destroy moral
Most federal workers, both direct and contracted, are conscientious employees. They are genuinely doing good work and spending their budgets wisely. They are executing their tasks as efficiently as the system will allow. Telling them they are non-essential and putting them through fiscal hell for a spell, takes its toll on their outlook. They often return to work in a malaise that may take a few weeks or months to get over. This further impacts the services the taxpayers receive for their investment. You can’t blame them either. This is a natural reaction anyone who gets laid-off, then rehired, would have.

There are real repercussions
It’s estimated that the 16-day, 2013 shutdown cost $24 billion. That’s a 1/4 of one percent of the GDP. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s enough to have a real impact on financial markets. While some cheer what is becoming perennial shutdowns, they lose sight of the fact that their own 401k suffers, too.

You had one job, Congress
Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 essentially tasks Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, with establishing a Federal budget. Congress has a pretty spotty record of actually passing a budget. The last budget was set in 2009. Since then the government has run on what is known as Continuing Resolutions (CRs), which is Congress’ way of kicking the can down the road. It isn’t lost on anyone that constantly wrangling over CRs is politically expedient. It gives a party, especially the minority party, great leverage. The current shutdown is cased as the Democrat’s way of keeping the DACA or “Dream Act” alive. Every shutdown can be tied to someone’s pet agenda project. The 2013 shutdown was the Republican’s trying to force the Democrat’s hand on The Affordable Care Act, aka, “Obamacare.” The power of the CR is basically a nuclear option for the minority party and we all understand that nuclear war has fallout. As with real nuclear war, there are no winners. The ACA is still in effect. The DACA will likely remain in effect, too. A shutdown is political theater that avoids the real business of government and usually changes nothing.

Cycling · e-bike · Life

8 Reasons Why You’ll Be Riding an E-Bike in the Future

Current battery technology gives most affordable e-bikes a range of 20-40 miles (32-65 km). This puts the average errand well within the e-bikes range. It also makes commuting more attractive. Most bicycle commuters don’t go far beyond 10 miles, but an e-bike changes that paradigm.

The average speed of an e-bike is 50% faster than a regular bicycle. What would take an hour and a half on a regular bike only takes an hour on an e-bike. This makes commuting longer distance more attractive and practical.

The price of gas only seems to go up. Every day you ride your bike is money in your pocket that you’re not spending on gas.

No, e-bikes are not as much exercise as a regular bike, but they do provide a decent cardio workout. If you’re feeling frisky, you can turn the motor power down and choose to pedal harder. Why pay money for a gym, take hours out of your week, drive to said gym, just to get the exercise you could get from combining your regular routine with an e-bike?

Sweat, or the lack, thereof
With and e-bike, you have the option not to exert yourself so much that you need a shower at the end of your ride. Bike commuting often requires a shower and change of clothes before you can really get to work. E-bikes eliminate the sweat factor. You lock your bike and go to work in the clothes your rode in. Plus, you usually have the best parking spot at the building.

Wide Appeal
Cycling brings to mind a particular picture of some Lycra-clad, weekend warrior slowing down traffic on country roads while pretending he’s in the Tour de France. E-bikes don’t fit in that niche. They are for a broader audience. No special clothing is required. Exceptional health is not a prerequisite, either. If you have minor health concerns that would keep you off a regular bike, an e-bike mitigates those problems. Almost anyone can confidently mount an e-bike and make a 10 km run.

The prices of e-bikes are coming down. Direct internet sales and standardization like common battery designs are putting the prices of e-bikes on par with regular bikes. Even conversion kits are becoming reasonable. You might find converting your regular bike to an e-bike to be a practical alternative.

The shear joy of cruising down the road in the open air is intoxicating. An e-bike is great for capturing that childhood feeling of freedom, but in a practical, adult-minded way. The simple chore of getting groceries becomes an opportunity to breath in some roadside honeysuckle and speak to some neighbors you’ve never met.

Life · traffic

An Argument For the Idaho Stop

As many drivers will tell you, usually in angrily posted internet comments, roads were built for cars. This factoid comes from the latest New York Times bestseller, The Big Book of Thank You Letters to Doctor Obvious. The lanes are car-width. The speed limits are car-powered. The loop-induction traffic signals are car-weighted. Yes, it’s all very obvious that roads were made for cars.

Also made for cars are traffic-calming devices. Traffic-calming is the concept of creating a safer environment for all road users. It mainly consists of narrowing lanes and putting obstructions like speed humps (“sleeping policeman” for you Brits), islands, and curves into the traffic flow. The intended result is to slow the speed of cars and make drivers aware of other road users. Note that pedestrians and cyclist have no need for speed-reducing devices because they are rarely traveling above the speed limit.

Here in The States, we haven’t fully embraces the roundabout. We have opted for right-angle intersections with light or sign control. This makes the stop sign a ubiquitous fixture on American streets. For example, my neighborhood, which has only one connection to the highway, consists of four longish streets and seven cul-du-sacs. There are fewer than 300 houses. All traffic is local since it is essentially a dead-end. The speed limit is 25 mph as are most residential areas. There are 15 stop signs, not including the one at the main highway. Every single traffic sign in my neighborhood is a stop sign. I have to ask, “Why”

The only conclusion is, the stop signs are there to interrupt cars so they don’t build up speed past the 25 mph limit. If there was some other device, say a computer controlled car, that ensured the cars never got over 25 mph, every intersection could be controlled with a simple yield sign. The fact is, most drivers treat the stop signs as if they were yield signs because it makes no damned sense to come to a full stop to turn right when the only possible cross traffic is coming from two houses that have driveways to the left, on a dead-end street. The rolling or “California” stop for cars is alive and well. It’s normally a perfectly safe exercise and the only penalty is if a cop sees it.

The Idaho Stop
The name derives from a recent change to the Idaho traffic code that allows cyclist to treat stop signs as yield signs with the caveat that if another vehicle is already stopped at the intersection, they have the right-of-way. It’s not as crazy as it first sounds. Since bicycles are moving at a car-relative slow speed, the cyclist has more time to assess the intersection and continue without stopping if the assessment is “all clear.” Idaho recognizes that stop signs are traffic-calming devices designed for cars. The Idaho Stop doesn’t give cyclist carte-blanche to run every stop sign. It doesn’t give them the right-of-way at all intersections. It simply puts the responsibility for their safety in their hands and allows them to continue unimpeded if they can do so safely.

The next time you see a cyclist cautiously run a stop sign, remember that most stop signs are simply traffic-calming devices for cars. The next time you see a cyclist jump a red light, consider that they have probably waited through 3 cycles without a green light because they can’t trigger the loop-induction sensor. Indeed, roads were built for cars and what quickly followed were devices to make drivers behave. These devices don’t always apply to non-car traffic.

Share the road and keep chasing the odd, little happy.

Cycling · drivers · driving · internet · law · Life · traffic

Common Comments on The Topic of Cycling

These are the most common comments made on the internet when the topic of cyclist sharing the road is brought up. I’ve tried to provide some decent responses you can give if confronted with these ridiculous suggestions.

When cyclist have insurance, registration, and tags, they might have some rights on the road.
Maybe pedestrian crossings should have a coin slot so people crossing the road on foot pay a fee to press the crosswalk button, too. Speaking of pedestrians, they’re in the car’s way. They are holding up traffic by crossing the road. If cars were the most important thing on the road, should they be allowed to mow down those pokey pedestrians so they can turn right?

Still, that’s not how freedom to travel works. You aren’t granted rights by the government because you paid a fee. Rights, like the right to travel on public roads, is just that…a right. Your car registration and tag doesn’t buy you the right to the road.

Furthermore, having a tiny metal plate on a bike, isn’t going to guarantee the respect of other travelers. That respect either comes from a mutual need to travel safely together with other members of the community or it is lacking in a person’s character. No amount of signage is going to make the raging driver respect the rights of other road users. Having a plate on your car doesn’t stop you from being cut-off or honked at. Why would it change how bad drivers treat cyclist?

Stay off the road if you can’t do the speed limit. You’re impeding traffic.
I fail to see how a small object like a bicycle moving 25-45 KPH in the same direction as traffic, tucked neatly on the edge of the lane, and easily passed, impedes traffic. Here are a few things that slow or stop cars completely:

  • Pedestrians (we’ve cover them)
  • Traffic lights
  • Trains
  • School buses
  • Mail trucks
  • Delivery trucks
  • Farm equipment
  • Construction zones
  • (and frankly) other motorist

Those impede traffic, but drivers would misplace their anger on cyclist. Cyclists are part of the traffic flow. In congested cities, cyclist often out-pace cars. As a driver, if you are unable to safely pass a bicycle, please don’t drive while school buses are loading and unloading, and for God’s sake, stay away from train crossing.

Speed limits are just that: the maximum safe limit on a road under perfect conditions. They aren’t a minimum speed that the traffic must travel. And while we’re on the subject, what’s with speed humps? Are they there to slow down the speeding cyclist? No. They are there because motorist fail to observe the set speed limit and need a little reminder now and again.

Cyclist run stop signs and red lights.
Surveys show that lights and signs are run in about equal amounts by both cars and bicycles (6.8% and 7.2% respectively). If any argument for removing cyclist from the roadway is to be made based on this, cars would necessarily need to be removed, too. It’s just ridiculous to ban a particular mode of transportation based on the lawlessness of a few. Police don’t give speeding tickets to all cars in the area just because one driver is speeding.

That being said, there are often good reasons cyclist run lights. Very often the sensors built into the road that trigger the light to change are not sensitive enough to detect a bicycle. Prudent cyclist often treat those lights as stop signs because the light will never change for them.

Bikes are toys for children.
Indeed, they are. They are also the main means of transportation for more than 4 billion adults worldwide. Anyone making this observation hasn’t been on a bicycle since they were nine and needs to experience the sheer joy of a bike again. If you don’t cycle, don’t tell people who do how they need to act. You are, by definition, not an experienced expert on the topic.

Bikes should only ride on bicycle paths or roads with wide shoulders.
That would be preferred by all, cyclist included. Sadly, there isn’t the infrastructure for bicycles in all areas. If politicians and bureaucrats are to be believed, widening shoulders by a couple of feet would put an undue financial burden on their budgets. Bike lanes seem to be out of the question in all, but the most densely packed cities. When bike paths do exist in smaller cities and towns, they are often relegated to parks. That’s fine for a weekend outing, but if the bike paths don’t go where you need them to go, they are functionally useless. If bike paths existed between neighborhoods, commercial zones, and place of work, cyclist would happily stick to them. Cyclist have no more desire to mix with motorized traffic than the driver’s desire them to be on the roads.

commuting · Cycling · exercise · Life

How to Start Bike Commuting

You’ve toyed with the idea of commuting by bike, but continuously come up with 100 reasons not to. Cars will run me over. I’m not in good enough shape. It might rain. I’m just too afraid. This should help belay your fears and get you started.

See if it’s possible
Plan a potential route with Google Maps’ bike feature. If you ask Google Maps for directions, there are icons in the upper left that let you change the mode of transportation from car to bike, walk, even mass transit. GM will then tell you the approximate journey time based on a bike doing an average speed of 19 KPH (12 MPH). If it’s doable in a reasonable time, what have you got to lose except some weight? Well, truthfully, a little sleep, too. You’ll need to get up earlier. GM may find cut-thrus you don’t know about, too. Zoom in. Use street-view to check out the route.

I also use an Under Armor app called MapMyWalk/Ride/Fitness/Run. It comes under a lot of names, but any will do because you can change the activity it logs. If you turn off “follow streets” in the route planner, you can customize your map to go off road, take advantage of a cut-thru, parking lot, or even jump a curb. In any event, you’ll want a decent tracking app that will follow you, give directions, and keep score.

Choose your steed
Finding the right bike for your needs is paramount. This topic is a whole, separate article, but here are some things to consider:

  • Storage: will you need a rack, bags, and/or backpack?
  • Fenders: essentially a must for a commuter.
  • Paper or plastic: will a regular bike do or do you need an e-bike?
  • Style: cruiser, mountain, step-thru…so many to choose from.
  • Tires: narrow, wide, fat? Will any of your commute take you off the asphalt?
  • Lights: even if your bike comes with one, get more.

Basically, make a list of your needs and start matching those up with various models. For example, one of my primary concerns was showing up for work as a hot, sweaty ball so ultimately, I went with an e-bike to mitigate the sweat factor. It wasn’t until I actually tried my first bike commute that I discovered a necessary connection Google Maps had suggested was a gravel path. Thank goodness the bike I bought had 2.4″ tires and not skinny road bike wheels.

Get dressed.
Riding equals wind so it’s colder than you think. Prepare to layer up or buy some cycling-specific clothing. At the very least, you need:

  • Helmet: No one rides without one! A helmet can turn a brain-injuring fall into a few bumps and bruises. Just wear it.
  • Gloves: Fingerless for warmer weather, full gloves for colder times.
  • Knit cap: There are cycling-specific beanies, but something over your ears is very necessary in cold weather.
  • Sunglasses: Not only for glare, but to keep the wind and dirt out of your eyes. Remember, commuting usually means being on the road when the sun is low and in your eyes.
  • Sunblock: Just because you’re on a bike doesn’t mean you can’t get burned.
  • Lip balm: Your lips are going to dry out. It’s just a proven, wind-related fact.
  • Reflective Vest: Let your mantra be “See and be seen.”
  • Comb: Dude, you have helmet hair.

You’re going to be a bike commuter. Look the part. You’ll find you get a lot more respect from other road users if you’re not a spandex jockey on a joy ride. Note, the non-bike costs add up. You can easily spend $300-$500 on new gear.

Do some test runs of your route. If you can, throw your bike in your car, drive halfway, find a parking lot (Walmart, grocery store, etc), and finish the commute on your bike. This not only helps you learn the route, but can give you a confidence boost, too.

Was your park-n-ride successful? Good. Now do it again, only this time drive less and cycle more. Adjust your route as you discover new things. Then start committing all the potholes to memory. Soon you’ll find yourself avoiding the standing obstacles without a second thought.

Gain confidence
The only way to conquer your fear of mixing with traffic is to get into traffic and ride. Youtube is a wealth of knowledge, not just how-to videos, but the close-call videos. You’ll learn the warning signs like watching a car’s tires for cues on which way it’s going at an intersection or a driver’s eyes to see if they really see you. Study the laws in your area. For example, in my State, it is strictly forbidden for a bike to ride on the sidewalk, but if a cycle lane is available, the cyclist must use the cycle lane. There is one sidewalk along my commute that is mostly asphalt and looks very much like it should be a cycle path. I had to email the city engineer to find out that it is indeed a pedestrian-only sidewalk.

Learn how to blend with traffic. Know when to filter to the front and know when to wait your turn. For example, my morning commute includes an intersection where a short, left-turn lane tries to accommodate a kilometer-long line of cars. Few cars go straight at that intersection because almost everyone going that way wants to get to the same place which is left. Those wanting to go straight have to wait in the same line anyway since the left turners have the through lane blocked. In those situations, I have no qualms about taking to the right or even the grass shoulder to make my way forward. However, on the way home, I go through an intersection where the shoulder leading up to it is essentially a ditch and the light cycle is pretty quick, so I take my place in the queue and wait my turn with all the cars.

And for God’s sake, signal. Failure to signal is one of the biggest complaints people have about drivers. Signalling is even more important on a bike. Drivers are always looking for a way to pass a bike because they assume (often incorrectly) that the bike is slow. Signalling a lane change may just keep that driver from attempting to pass you in that same lane. Communicate with your fellow traffic muppets. Make eye contact. Be sure you’re being seen. It never hurts to ask, either. Often, when I’m first at the line of an intersection, I’ll ask the driver behind which way they’re going. I’ll then invite them to take the lead. They think I’m the most polite cyclist ever, when I really want them on the traffic light sensor so we’ll get a green light. But it never hurts to have a chat with the cars around you so everyone is on the same page. “Yeah, I know I barged up to the front of the line, but when we turn left, I’m going to swing wide and take the shoulder/cycle-lane, so no worries; won’t be in your way. Have a good day and be safe.” Never has that conversation not gone well.

There’s no better time than now to start conquering your fears. Get out there and chase the odd, little happy on a bicycle.

Action · Alabama · Autos · commuting · Cycling · Huntsville · Life · Madison · politics

Tilting at City Windmills

I recently sent an email to the Public Works Dept of the little town I commute through to/from work. Actually, I commute through 4 jurisdiction: the county (where I live), the city of Huntsville, AL, the city of Madison, AL, and finally, federal property, Redstone Arsenal. The little town in question is Madison.

I noticed that the induction loop detectors (the sensors in the asphalt that tell if a car is waiting at a red light) weren’t sensitive enough to detect a bicycle. I pointed out two intersections and have subsequently found a third. The email I sent was to ask if something could be done to increase the sensitivity or put in a button. Even though there are no crosswalks there, a button like a pedestrian crossing request would work the same.

The response I got was, “Treat the red light like a stop sign and proceed with caution.” So the Public Works Dept is giving me permission to break the law and piss off all the traffic on Mill Rd. by stopping, then running a red light. I doubt a copy of the email is going to hold much weight with the Police Dept or the drivers I cut between. But Church and Mill is just a small T-intersection on a two-lane road.

This intersection (Hwy 72 and Hughes Rd.) is a completely different animal. Hwy 72 is a four-lane, 45 MPH, divided highway with multiple turning lanes at the intersections. There is no hope of treating this like a stop sign when the cross traffic isn’t going to stop.

But I took that intersection out of my commuting mix and replaced it with this one at Hwy 72 and Nance Rd.

It’s still just as wide with multiple turning lanes, but I hadn’t had any trouble with the lights…until Friday, 28 April 2017. I think my morning commute is blessed because I can’t see any traffic sensors on the north side of the intersection. That tells me the through light is on a timer and will always turn green eventually. The south side, the side I’m on in the afternoon, is a different story. It has a sensor, probably because this side of the road mostly goes to residential streets, so isn’t as heavily traveled. It even has a little bicycle icon painted on the pavement. I don’t know what that’s for. I thought maybe it was a “stop here” symbol to trigger the lights, but after waiting through 2 lights last Friday, I gave up and pulled a tricky maneuver to continue my journey.

I peeled left across the south side of the intersection crossing two lanes, carefully moved against eastbound traffic on the shoulder, repositioned my bike in a parking lot, crossed the two eastbound lanes into the northbound, left turn lanes where I was in the company of several cars and got a green left-turn arrow. It should be noted that none of these intersections have pedestrian crosswalks, either. Apparently, you go by car or you just don’t go.

I replied to the email I received, thanking them for their permission to break the law and pointed out that their advice was moot at the Hwy 72 intersections. I told them I understood that I was the only one complaining about this, so my lone voice probably didn’t count for much. Maybe they will listen when a news crew covers some fatal accident at one of those intersections. It won’t be me. I’ll cross safely if it takes an hour. I also included the city council member of the district the Nance Rd. intersection is in with my reply.

Their attitude is a little puzzling because they just spent the better part of a year redoing a road on the other side of the city with beautiful, segregated, mixed-use cycle/pedestrian paths. They obviously understand the need for cycling safety. Maybe they just ran out of money after redoing County Line Rd.

They say you can’t fight city hall, but damn it, you can have fun trying.

Cycling · Life · life lesson

Sharing the Road is a Two-way Street

Cyclist and cagers* often have partisan views of how the roads should work. Cyclist insist they are traffic and demand to be treated as such. Cagers see bicycles as obstacles and annoyances to get around at all costs (commonly referred to as “Must Get In Front,” – MGIF syndrome). Then we’re told to “Share the Road,” and each group yells, “Yeah!” To cagers, sharing the road means, “Get out of our way.” To cyclists, it means, “Treat us as equals, even though we’re no match for a combustion engine and 1,000 kgs. of steel, oh, and let us break a few rules here and there.”

There are psychological theories that address why these factions act the way they do. They’re to extensive to delve into, but suffice it to say:
1. We like to put ourselves in “us verses them” groups.
2. We tend to exaggerate the failings of the opposite group while overlooking our own group’s failings.

What does “Share the Road” Really Mean?
For cars, it’s really simple. It means:

  1. Treat cyclists as if they were your own blood. You wouldn’t honk, shout, and bully your own kid, would you?
  2. Have patience. Does that 5 seconds you gain passing really get you where you’re going more quickly?
  3. Be aware of what is down the road. Don’t focus on the cyclist as if they are there to impede your journey. Look ahead and see what’s coming. Does it really make sense to pass if you’re just going to be a red light in 100 feet or behind another car that the cyclist is keeping up with?
  4. Pass when safe.
  5. Pass when you can give enough room. Generally, laws call for 3 feet or 1 meter of distance between the car and bike.
  6. Understand that cyclist are trying to get somewhere, just like you.
  7. Know when to break the rules. Cyclist and cops really don’t care if you use the left-turn-only lane to pass a bike. Just pass safely.
  8. Realize that your 1,000 kilogram car is a deadly weapon against a cyclist.
  9. Signal your intentions. Just use your indicators. They were free-with-purchase when you bought the car.

Cyclist would be happy if the list ended there. They love to play the victim when mixed with motorized traffic. However, cyclists need to follow a few “Share the Road” rules, too. One, it’s a social contract that goes two ways. Two, it makes cycling safer. For cyclists, “Share the Road” means:

  1. Plan your route. Yes, you have a legal right to the road, but you’re safer if you stick to low-traffic roads, low speed-limit zones like residential areas, and only mix with high-speed, high-volume traffic when absolutely necessary. When you inevitably have to get on a major street, make it one that has multiple lanes or at least a left-turning divide. This gives motorists room to pass safely. Check your local government’s website. They keep statistics on the roads. You can see which roads are used more heavily and plan accordingly.
  2. Have confidence, not arrogance. Confidence comes from doing, so get out there and bike. If the situation calls for you to take the full lane, take the lane. Just don’t do it when the situation doesn’t warrant simply because you legally can.
  3. Have patience. The most direct route isn’t always the safest. If you have to add a kilometer or two to your route to decrease your dance with death, leave early.
  4. Light it up! Put lights on your cycle. Put lights on your body. Put lights everywhere you can. Be seen. Consider a head-lamp. Sure they look dorky, but when you make eye contact with a driver approaching from a side street, you’ll know that they see that strobe on your forehead.
  5. Take a break if you can. If you see there are 20 cars piling up behind you, consider pulling over in a safe place to let them pass. This reduces the risk of road rage and gives you a breather, too.
  6. Do what is expected by following the rules of the road. We know the bane of the cyclist is stopping, but traffic lights and stop signs are there for a reason. Mainly, they keep you safe when people do what is expected. Don’t put yourself in danger and give cyclist a bad name by running signals and signs.
  7. Know when to break the rules. Bikes can go where cars can’t and sometimes that’s safer. Learn the peculiarities of your route. Know of a traffic light sensor that won’t detect your bike? Route around it, make a right then u-turn then right when safe, or move over and invite a car up to the line to set off the sensor.
  8. Know the laws in your area. Is riding on the sidewalk illegal in your city/state? Then stay off the sidewalks. Cyclist are generally good at this one.
    Most know the cycling laws better than the police.
  9. Realize that your 20 kilogram bike and 80 kilogram meat sack are no match for a car. Give them room whenever possible.
  10. Signal your intentions. Signal early. Signal often.

Simply Put
Do what is expected of you and signal your intentions. These two things will do more to keep you safe whether you’re in a car or on a bike.

*cager: an automobile operator.

Cycling · e-bike · exercise · Life

Decisions. Decisions. How I bought an E-bike.

Like with all things, buying a bike has to meet a need. You have to ask yourself, “Why do I need or want this bike?” Bicycles can serve multiple needs, but normally there is one, paramount requirement that will trump all others. When I began my search for alternative conveyance, I was seriously considering a small scooter like the Honda PCX150. I weighed the pros and cons and seriously thought about my needs when e-bikes entered the mix.

What floated to the top of my needs list was commuting. I really wanted to get out of my car, at least a few days per week. I calculated the savings in gasoline and found that a $1500 e-bike would pay for itself in about 2-3 years, depending on how many days per week I commuted. At that point, I was still vacillating between a gas-powered scooter and e-bike. The health benefits to cycling, even on an e-bike, obviously outweighed the scooter. So e-bike 2, scooter 1.

The thing that made me finally settle on an e-bike was the fact that my wife and I camp often. We have a travel trailer and love getting away 4 or 5 times a year, even if it’s just to a local campground where I can still make it to work. While camping, I enjoy hiking, but having another activity like cycling as an option finally did score the final point in the e-bike’s favor.

So there’s my criteria for my decision.
1. Save gas and maybe the planet.
2. Commute to work without needing a shower.
3. Get some exercise, but not kill myself.
4. Have a little recreational fun.
5. Maybe my wife will like it and use it a little.

Now the search for the right e-bike was on. There are as many different choices as there are buyers. Getting it right is a matter of research, research, research. I read hundreds of product reviews, looked into dozens of different companies, and watched an endless stream of Youtube videos, especially the Electric Bike Review Youtube channel.

The first thing I learned is that there are a lot of cheap, Chinese bikes with a motor and battery slapped on them being pawned off as really, cool e-bikes. I even saw one company get outed on Youtube when their oh-so-slick model was found on a Chinese wholesaler’s site. The Stateside company was just slapping cheap batteries and iffy motors on them and selling them with a slick ad. I’m not naming names, but the company rhymes with Bave Wikes.

The second thing I learned is there are different motors (mid-mount, rear-wheel, etc.) and different advantages/prices for each. There are even different types of assist sensors, cadence being the most common, but even then the number of magnets can vary in those sensors. The motors commonly vary from 250 to 1000 watts, too. So finding the right power output for battery life was another research project on the side.

Thirdly, I learned there is pedal-assist and throttled features. Not all e-bike have both and I wanted a model that did. I still wanted to pedal for the exercise, but I needed a throttle that could take over if the commute was making me sweat too hard. My number 2 requirement was not needing a shower when I got to work.

Lastly, I was stunned to see the price variance. $579 for a cheapy model on Amazon. $579? A decent Li-ion battery is going to cost $400-$500. How can that be a decent product at $579? Flag on the play! $2500 for a really nice commuter-oriented model. Looks good, but $2500 is getting into “my wife is going to kill me” range. $10,000?! Holy smoldering tire fire! Oh, good, it’s illegal for road use in my country because it has a 5 KILOWATT system and can do 65 KPH (40 MPH). Crikey those Aussies live dangerously. I guess when everything in your country is trying to kill you, doing 65 KPH on a bicycle is the least of your worries.

I don’t even know where I found the company I finally ended up buying from. It’s all still a blur of websites, blogs, and videos. RadPowerBikes had 4 products to choose from, all for different purposes, 3 models at $1499 and 1 at $1599. It was easy to zero in on their commuter model and match it with my needs. Sure, their fat-tire Rover looked cool and tackled the trails, but I was tackling asphalt. The RadCity came with fenders (a must for commuting and staying clean and dry), a standard rack (a bonus for commuting and not wearing a backpack), a rear-wheel 750 watt motor (enough to give me the boost I needed), and a battery that promised a 20-40 mile range (enough to get me to work and back if necessary even without recharging at the office).

So, that’s how I made my decision and I’m sure someone out there is going through the same process. An e-bike isn’t a one-off purchase. You’re going to sink some serious money into one. Your decision should be weighed and measured before investing. Outline your needs and wants and match those to the endless companies and models available. There’s no one-size-fits-all unit out there. When budgeting, keep in mind that you’re going to spend another $200-$500 outfitting your bike with safety, comfort, and emergency equipment. Find a price you’re comfortable with, but if it comes down to price versus quality, choose quality. Those cheap, Chinese models, no matter how well disguised, will break your heart every time.

Keep chasing the odd, little happy. You might catch it on a bike.

Here you can see some of the gear I outfitted my bike with.

Here you can enjoy the wonder of a Christmas morning in March as I unbox my RadCity.

Biking · Cycling · exercise · Life

Motivation Beyond the Money

There’s this idea of sunk costs as a motivator. The thousands of treadmills and stationary bikes in closets and on Craig’s List testify that spending money on something doesn’t equate to long-term motivation. So why the hell did I just spend $1,499.00 (US) on a bicycle? Simply, because I am already motivated. I just need to find the right exercise.

I tried walking. That’s cheap exercise and you know I’m cheap. You’d think that would be a done deal, but I have this lower back that hates me. So now I just have a $60 pair of cool, red walking shoes. I’m motivated beyond the sunk cost of the bike. If the road infrastructure was better in my area, I’d gladly commute to work on a bike. I’ve even tried finding some halfway points where I can park, then ride, somewhere closer to work where the roads are more bike-friendly. Half a commute is better than none, I guess. But that’s in the future. The bike will be here late this week. I’m psyched to try something new, healthy, and fun.

So, you say being bent over a bicycle is going to be bad on my back, too. You’re being awful negative, but let’s take a look at what I got and why.

What did I buy? After lots of research and many Youtube reviews, many from Electric Bike Reviews, I settled on the City Cruiser from Rad Power Bikes. I even emailed Rad Power with some questions before settling on the 16″ frame instead of the 20″ that I first thought was the one I needed. They were extremely helpful and prompt in responding to my inquiries.

$1,499 is a lot to plunk down on a bike, but this is an e-bike. It has an electric motor, pedal assists, and throttle mode, too. “Well,” you say, “that’s not exercise,” but it is. It provides a level of confidence that if I over do it, I’ll have the ability to return to home base. I won’t be stranded 10 kms from home with aching legs. I also selected a cruiser-style which puts the rider in a much more upright position than a racing or mountain bike. It also provides an activity other than hiking that I can enjoy while we are camping.

You can find e-bikes as cheap as $579, but from what I read, they are cheap in every meaning of the word. Considering a decent 48-volt Li-ion battery costs $499, there can’t be much bike in those $579 models. I was looking for something that had both pedal assist and a throttle. Not all e-bikes have both, so you have to know the jargon and shop around. The Rad Power models had the features and a price that didn’t quite break the bank. The City Cruiser comes complete with fenders and a back rack, both necessities if I ever try to commute. I’m not going to be a spandex-clad speedster. I plan on doing this in plain clothes, possibly a tie. If you see Lycra, that’s not me.

The cost is now sunk, so this workout better work out. My goals are to get some decent cardio, drop 10 kilos (22 lbs), and bring the circulation back to my legs. I’m not going to let diabetes kick my ass. I’m perfectly capabile of kicking my own ass. Allons-y!

Keep chasing the odd, little happy and share the road.